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Louise Godbold: “My Encounter with Harvey Weinstein and What It Tells Us About Trauma”

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We continue our look at two shocking investigations by The New Yorker and The New York Times, which revealed a slew of rape and sexual assault allegations against disgraced and now-fired movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who had been one of the most powerful men in Hollywood for decades. We speak with Louise Godbold, who recently wrote a blog post titled “My Encounter with Harvey Weinstein and What It Tells Us About Trauma.” Now executive director of Echo Parenting & Education, Godbold calls on others to believe and support survivors of sexual assault and harassment, saying, “We need to educate everyone about trauma.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue our look at the fallout from two shocking investigations by The New Yorker and The New York Times which revealed a slew of rape and sexual assault allegations against disgraced and now-fired movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who had been one of the most powerful men in Hollywood for decades. Weinstein has also been a major contributor to the Democratic Party.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by Tomi-Ann Roberts, who you just heard, professor of psychology now at Colorado College, who describes her experience in 1984 with Harvey Weinstein when she was an aspiring actress. In Los Angeles, we’re joined by Louise Godbold, who wrote about her experience with Weinstein in a blog post that was entitled “My Encounter with Harvey Weinstein and What It Tells Us About Trauma.” She’s now executive director of Echo Parenting & Education.

So, can you tell us, Louise Godbold, about what your encounter was and what it tells you about trauma? When did you first meet Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul who has now been fired and—well, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see if, in fact, he will be prosecuted. Scores of women are now coming forward talking about their experiences with him. What happened to you, Louise?

LOUISE GODBOLD: Well, firstly, let me thank you very much, Amy and Nermeen, for creating a safe space to tell this story, because part of the story is what happens when a woman does come forward. And it’s been a very interesting journey since that blog came out on Monday.

But my experience was, as Tomi-Ann said, chillingly similar to all the other stories. And when I wrote my blog, I didn’t actually go into detail. I didn’t think it was necessary. The patterns are there, clear to see. And I was also very young. I was 28, but a young 28. And I had met Harvey and Bob socially in London. A friend of mine is an actress. And they were just starting out, and they would come to her brunch parties. And so, when I was traveling through New York, I had an appointment with Harvey’s PR person to talk about interning in the U.S. And as I went past Harvey’s office, I saw him there. And it felt strange not to say hello, especially if I was going to be there as an intern. And that resulted in a tour of the office in Tribeca and him cornering me in an empty meeting room and putting my hand on his crotch. And I got out of there as fast as I could. And then he called my friend, our mutual friend, to say he apologized, it was the pressure of work, it was coming up to the Academy Awards or something like that, and was I going to do anything about it? And sadly, in the 1990s, that was the last thing on my mind. I felt like this was somebody I had known and who maybe had lurched at me drunkenly at a party, and, you know, you kind of shrug it off.

So, when I was then, the next month, in Los Angeles, I was invited to his hotel suite, and I thought that he was going to make things right. He knew I was trying to get started in the film industry in the U.S. And fortunately, a friend of mine, a male friend of mine, drove me to the hotel and waited in the lobby, because after chatting about the industry—and I would love to know this detail from other women: Did he tell you to read Genius of the System? Because that’s what he was telling me to do. And the next thing I know, he’s asking for a shoulder massage. I don’t remember all the details, but somehow or other I ended up in his bedroom, with him, in bed, asking me to do a massage, and then he got up. And that was a sight for sore eyes. I won’t go into details. And then he tried to give me a massage. And as Tomi-Ann said, one of our most primitive survival instincts is to freeze. And I had been frozen, confused, scared, embarrassed—primarily embarrassed. And because I had a friend waiting downstairs in the lobby, I was able to make my excuses and get out of there, and never told anybody, because I did want to get my start in the industry, and it would have been suicide to have said anything.

And then I moved on into a different industry and didn’t really think very much more about it until I saw The New York Times report. And then, when I heard that Harvey wanted to sue The New York Times, that’s when I got really angry, because the pattern was so familiar. And I hadn’t realized that this had happened to so many women. And so, I got mad. And I contacted the lawyer who was representing the person who brought this original case, and wanted to tell my story. So, that’s how I got involved.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Louise, you ask in your blog post a question that’s very pertinent, first of all, because this practice is so widespread and not just among extremely powerful men, although in that case it’s more silencing to the people who are subject to their sexual violence. You ask in your blog post, “Why is it that women carry the shame of their abusers?” Can you talk about that? Why is that?

LOUISE GODBOLD: I think it’s—I think it’s partly conditioning. And that goes back to your childhood. It goes back to this culture of compliance that we have in our parenting, in our education system. And we focus so much on that, and not on building relationships and connection, that we end up very vulnerable to either then discovering that the way to get things is by being a bully, which is what happened to Harvey, clearly, or you end up at the other end of that power dynamic, where you are more vulnerable to finding yourself in these kind of situations. And the Adverse Childhood Experiences study has shown that people who have experienced childhood trauma or adversity are much more likely to be victims of sexual assault later. And so you end up one or the other side of this dynamic. And if you’re on the side of the person who is being targeted, you feel like it’s your fault. And I know that Tomi-Ann has said that in her reporting of the incident, that she felt like it was her fault.

But there’s not a lot to contradict you. Your friends and family, out of love for you, want to protect you. They tell you, “Don’t say anything.” Even as recently as yesterday, “Steer clear of this. Keep your nose clean. Don’t get involved.” And the message is: “You will be doing something wrong.” At least that’s how I perceived it. “You will be doing something wrong. You’ll be rocking the boat. You will be bringing all this shame upon your head. And if you do, well, you know, that’s on you,” which is a bit like saying, “If you find yourself alone with Harvey, like, that’s on you.” Or it’s like saying, “If you wore that dress, that’s on you.” And you can extend it all the way back to “And if you’re a woman, you should just expect to be a target of men.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the second part, this issue of trauma, and that’s something that you deal with today. Your piece, “My Encounter with Harvey Weinstein and What It Tells Us About Trauma.” If you could expand on that?

LOUISE GODBOLD: Yes, absolutely. We train professionals in trauma-informed care. And Tomi-Ann has already covered the three primary responses when you’re in survival mode—the fight, flight, freeze. But I think that what I have learned after writing that blog and experiencing the fallout is that we need to educate everybody about trauma so that people can become trauma-informed, not just the friends and family I’m talking about who actively were trying to protect me and suggesting I did not come forward, but also for the media in the way that this story has been handled. I have to tell you, I’ve been traumatized, retraumatized, by some of the conversations I’ve had with people wanting interviews. And I know these are good people, and I know that they would be trauma-informed if they could be. They just don’t have the information.

So, for example, when we train legal advocates who are working with sexual assault survivors, the first thing that you say is “I believe you.” And I had an interview with one of the corporate networks, who—they canceled, because the lawyer said, “Well, you don’t have a corroborating story.” The reason I don’t have a corroborating story is because the person who waited for me in the lobby of the hotel does not want to come forward. And so, I went home and, after 26 years, cried my eyes out, because, before, it had been a private, embarrassing situation, now I feel like I’m not believed, and the shame that comes with that and the anger that comes with that. So, I’ve learned a lot about how we generally need to become more trauma-informed, believing the survivor and offering support. I would have loved someone to say to me, “You brave, brave girl,” rather than “Don’t do this. Sit down. Shut up.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to go to one of the people who broke this story, Ronan Farrow, his interview on Tuesday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about why he published his major investigation into Harvey Weinstein in The New Yorker magazine, when he’s a contributing correspondent to NBC. This was Farrow’s response.

RONAN FARROW: You would have to ask NBC and NBC executives about the details of that story. I’m not going to comment on any news organization’s story that they, you know, did or didn’t run. I will say that over many years, many news organizations have circled this story and faced a great deal of pressure in doing so. And there are now reports emerging publicly about the kinds of pressure that news organizations face in this. And that is real.

AMY GOODMAN: By the way, Ronan Farrow is Mia Farrow’s son. For more, I want to bring into this conversation Irin Carmon, who is a journalist and contributing writer at The Washington Post, where she recently published a piece headlined “Women shouldn’t trust the men who call themselves allies.” She’s also an author of The New York Times best-seller, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Irin, talk about why you’re raising this issue now, and start with what Ronan Farrow just said, this issue of he—NBC spiked the story.

IRIN CARMON: Amy, the first thing I want to say is I’m astonished by the courage of the women who are talking about this right now. And if you want to see how hard it is, all you have to do is listen to the words that Ronan said. He was able to do something that journalists have been trying to do for a long time, which is publish a story, not just report on a story, but reach to publication a story that documented what is clearly a systemic pattern of abuse from Harvey Weinstein. And one of the reasons that they weren’t able to do that is because the standard is so high for corroborating details, in a way that often revictimizes people. And by revictimizing—by asking for this kind of corroboration, networks are trying to insulate themselves from legal threats. The fact that this is a powerful man who managed to get the best counsel that money could buy, who is extremely well connected, who effectively bought off people who were an impediment to him, shows what a difficult journey it was just to get these stories to come to light. So, I think that that’s job number one.

You mentioned The Hunting Ground. I mean, Harvey Weinstein was somebody who, among other people that he sort of bought off or implicated, whether they knew it or not, in the kind of behavior in which he was engaging, are advocates for women’s rights. He funded a professorship in Gloria Steinem’s name. He went to the Women’s March in Utah during the Sundance Film Festival. So, on the one hand, you know, for myself, as a feminist, I would love to welcome men to this fight. We cannot do it by ourselves. We can’t have a one-sided revolution. This has to be something where gender roles are revolutionized for everyone, for a more safe and equal world. But when you have people who are putting on the cloak of gender equality as a way to hide their misdeeds, I think all of us need to stop and say, “What truly constitutes an ally? When is somebody just talking the talk and using the good faith of women?”—which, by the way, we’re also socialized to give men the benefit of the doubt as a cover to abuse us.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I mean, one of the people who has come out against Weinstein is a former employee of his, Lauren O’Connor, who, in her letter to several executives at the company run by Weinstein, wrote, “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” So, I mean, in addition to—I mean, what are the implications of that? You talked about the fear that media companies have of running stories like this, because of fear of legal consequences. But talk about the broader implications of this, the fact that there’s such massive power differentials, and often age differentials, too, as has been the case with a large number of women who have come forward in this.

IRIN CARMON: Lauren O’Connor’s memo, I think, puts it so beautifully. This is all about power. This is about somebody who—the very exercise of power against people who are more vulnerable was what appealed to him, not because, what we’re hearing some of it this week, Harvey liked pretty girls. It is so clear, from hearing the accounts, that it was the very abuse of power that he was after in these scenarios.

I’m really struck by the fact that so many of these women did what victims are told to do in the civil realm, in the sexual harassment realm. Women are told, “Document everything that happens. Tell your superiors.” That’s what that young woman did, despite the fact that that power dynamic existed. You mentioned Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. This is a woman who came back to a man who had assaulted her, wearing a wire, at tremendous danger to herself. And rather than it being followed up by prosecution, which is what she clearly hoped for, she saw her own personal record, just the fact that she had previously accused people of assault, dragged through the mud.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, her story is really unbelievable.


AMY GOODMAN: She walked out of Harvey Weinstein’s place straight to the police station. She said, “I’ve just been assaulted.” They took her seriously, and they said, “We’re going to wire you.” She went back the next night, and she had this encounter that we played earlier, just a clip of it. It goes on. In the end, the DA, Cy Vance, decided not to prosecute. Now, the Times has a very interesting piece today, where it says, “Mr. Weinstein was represented in talks with the district attorney’s office by two defense lawyers with ties to Mr. Vance: Daniel S. Connolly, a former Manhattan prosecutor, and Elkan Abramowitz, who is Mr. Vance’s former law partner and a donor to his campaign. Mr. Vance said on Wednesday the donations had not influenced him.”

IRIN CARMON: Whether the donations influenced him or not, I think it’s very clear that there were a series of interactions that show how powerful Harvey Weinstein was, whether it was monetary, whether it was influence. I remember—one of the reports today mentioned the prosecution of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was a very powerful man who was accused of sexual assault, that—where there was indeed prosecution, that was dropped after the victim herself was questioned.

AMY GOODMAN: A famous, powerful French politician, who could have been president of France.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And the head of the IMF.

IRIN CARMON: Again, we talk about power dynamics. I think any prosecutor wants to bring a case that they know they can win. And it is very difficult to win when someone is able to purchase the best legal counsel that money can buy, when someone is able to purchase the silence—I mean, the way in which nondisclosure agreements and settlements, including with Ms. O’Connor, have been used, and Ms. Battilana Gutierrez, these—money ultimately was used to silence these women, because they realized—probably they made a calculation that if they went through with it, they would end up with even less. But, you know, the upshot was that he was available to keep abusing people and continued doing so.

AMY GOODMAN: The idea that this is just being known now is obviously completely untrue. We’re going to go to break, and we’re going to come back and play just a couple of clips. One of them was seen by—I don’t know what they say. Who watches the Oscars? Like a billion people. And the other one from 30 Rock, referring directly to Harvey Weinstein. And then we’ll continue our discussion with Irin Carmon of The Washington Post. As well, we’ll be joined by two women who describe their own encounters with Harvey Weinstein: Tomi-Ann Roberts, who is now a professor of psychology who looks at the sexual objectification of girls and women, she’s at Colorado College, and Louise Godbold, executive director of Echo Parenting & Education, as she talks about trauma. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Birmingham Sunday” by the singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, who just won Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

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